Two weeks ago I had the extraordinary pleasure of hearing Arianna Huffington speak at the 2013 Bryant University Women’s Summit. Ms Huffington blew me away; from the moment she began speaking she OWNED the room and every one of us in it. We laughed, we connected, we were moved. Better yet, I can still remember the key points she made. A truly great presentation.
Here are five things Ms Huffington did as a presenter that other great presenters do – and so can YOU.
1: Be human: Audiences connect with fellow homo-sapiens (now there’s a word you probably haven’t read since 7th grade science class). Too often as presenters we feel the need to posture, to impress, to position ourselves as the X-man or woman of our industry, the Super-human (“I only get four hours of sleep a night and work an 80 hour week.”) business person. The adversity-proof, saint-like conqueror of all things and all people. Ick. These kinds of presenters make audiences feel inadequate, less-than, incapable of ever measuring up. Connect with this kind of presenter? Audiences don’t even see themselves as the same species as this kind of presenter.
Instead, we need to be willing to show our fallibility, our errors, our short-comings. In a word; our humanity. Does this mean we fill our presentations with all of our most embarrassing moments? Absolutely not. But acknowledgement of the times we doubted ourselves, missed the mark, or learned the valuable lesson goes a long way toward proving to the audience that we are like them, we share similar thoughts, feelings and experiences. These are the things that make connection happen.
2: Be honest: Think Jiminy Cricket. “let your conscience be your guide”. Audiences can smell a phony a mile away, and nothing can destroy trust faster or more irrevocably than being caught in a lie. If you think you need to present someone else’s idea as your own to bolster your standing as an expert, think again. Your audience wants valuable useful information. They don’t care if you’re the genius who thought it up. They’ll see you as a genius for finding it and sharing it with them.
3: Be prepared: Ms Huffington spoke for the better part of an hour with no more than an index card for notes. How did she do it? I can’t say for sure, but my bet is she practiced. She knew the path of her presentation so well she only needed simple notes to jog her memory and keep her on track. The result? A totally fluid presentation – no stutter steps, no ums and ahs, no reading. A presenter who was completely present. The result for the audience? Bliss.
4: Be simple. Speak plain English. Don’t dazzle us with 7 syllable words and industry acronyms. That kind of “dazzling” is a constellation of confusion. We can’t remember or be impressed or moved by a presentation we can’t understand.
5: Be liking us: The audience is there to like you – or at the very least to reserve judgment. Like us back! Like us first! Set us on the right foot by smiling at us! Our instinctual reaction will be to smile back. And smiling makes us feel good – literally. Now everybody’s feeling happy. How great is that? As simple as it sounds, there is no better way to start a presentation. And a smile makes for a great ending too.
You don’t have to be the CEO of a huge media enterprise (with your name on it). You don’t have to be a household word. You don’t even have to have a Greek accent. Follow these five rules and you’ll be on your way to being a great presenter. And you’ll be heard.